I was at the National Arts Centre recently to see Metamorphoses which was, like all NAC Theatre productions, strikingly staged. Even if the play doesn’t knock you out, its visual presentation is always going to be interesting.
In this case, it was more interesting that usual because it was played mostly in the water -- a kind of wading pool at the front part of the stage and a deep tank with transparent sides at the back. The actors were in and out of the water. Somebody even smoked a cigarette underwater, which is a trick I’m glad I never learned how to do.
It was hard enough to quit.
The presence of the water, including a kind of constant rain from above the stage, prompted a mildly critical comment in a largely favourable review from the Globe and Mail:
“A constant rain of water tumbling down on the upper level of the set is one misjudgment; its aesthetic value is cancelled out by the damage it wreaks acoustically and the suggestions it sends to bladders in the audience (particularly since there’s no intermission).”
Actually, the play is only an hour and 20 minutes long, so the lack of an intermission was unlikely to produce a crisis. But the comment did get me to ponder what seems to be a general trend in our theatres to eliminate intermission whenever possible.
Some of this may have to do with a trend to shorter plays and concerts: it seems silly to stop an hour-long play in the middle. But for longer plays, or even movies -- I remember visiting the snack bar in the middle of Ben Hur and Spartacus, and I’m sure Gone With the Wind had an intermission -- eliminating the intermission takes away what seems to be an important part of the theatre-going experience.
That’s the part where the theatre-goers stretch their legs, wander the lobby and discuss what they’ve seen and what might happen next. They bump into people they know and ask how they’re enjoying it so far. Maybe they have an argument. Maybe they pick up on something they missed. Why was the tall guy so angry? Oh, so he was her former husband. However the discussion goes, it helps them to focus on what they have seen and are about to see.
Theatre-going, concert-going and movie-going are not supposed to be solitary experiences. They should be social, with people sharing ideas and enthusiasms. That doesn’t happen if they just walk in, sit in their seats for the performance and head for their cars as soon as the event is over.
This is recognized at many concerts, where part of the fun is chatting about the music at half-time. And it is true of professional sports. In both cases, there is the added benefit of lightening the wallets of the hungry and thirsty.
But theatre is different. As the parent of actors, I know the reasoning: The director and cast have worked hard to establish a mood, to involve the audience so completely that they forget they are sitting in a theatre; when the curtain goes down at intermission, the spell is broken and has to be re-established all over again when the curtain goes up.
That’s a persuasive argument. Mind you, a hockey player could argue the same thing — “We really had it going and then the buzzer went and when the next period started we lost our momentum and everything changed.” Hockey players have learned to live it.
True, it’s a bit more difficult for actors, who have to stick to a script and can’t just go and punch somebody to get the momentum going again. But they should be able, after intermission, to take consolation in the notion that the audience is fresh and not restless and maybe better able to understand why the tall guy was so angry.